Russian tortoises (otherwise known as Central Asian tortoises, Horsfield’s tortoises, or Steppe tortoises) are enjoying growing popularity as pets due to their compact size — typically no more than 8 to 10 inches in length from end to end — and hardiness. Although, in the wild, Russian tortoises live in relatively dry regions of the Mediterranean, Africa, and Middle East, their underground burrows are generally more humid than what indoor, human-made habitats offer. Dirt and dead cells can also build up on the shell, clogging the pores. Experts recommend bathing Russian tortoises at least weekly and as frequently as once a day, to keep the skin and shell clean and hydrated. Contact with water also prompts the water-conserving desert tortoise to excrete waste and drink water more regularly.
Bath time can be both healthy and relaxing for the Russian tortoise. Here are step-by-step instructions on how to bathe your tortoise:
1. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water. You should always wash your hands before and after handling the tortoise, to avoid spreading parasites and disease.
2. Fill a shallow pan or tray with clean, warm water. The water level should approximately reach the bottom of the tortoise’s shell. Do not add cleaning products to the water. Avoid leaving your tortoise unattended in the water because your tortoise should be supervised (especially if the water level is ever above his/her head).
3. Place your tortoise in the pan. This is a good time to check for mites, injuries, and other external problems.
4. Allow your tortoise to soak and become used to the water. Do not hold the tortoise down by force. Use a container that is porcelain or other opaque materials, to discourage the tortoise from trying to climb out.
5. Using a separate container of warm water, gently trickle water through your hands onto the tortoise’s shell. Let the water moisten the tortoise’s head, shell, and body.
6. If there is dirt or other buildup on the shell, clean it with water and a soft-bristled brush.
7. Once the tortoise is clean and has soaked for about 30 minutes, you can dry off the shell, head, and limbs thoroughly with paper towels.
8. Discard the paper towels immediately to prevent the spread of disease.
9. Place the tortoise back into the enclosure when dry. Do not apply anything to the shell.
10. Sanitize your hands with soap and warm water.
In addition to regular bathing, your Russian tortoise might also enjoy access to a shallow pan of clean, warm water for soaking three or four times per week. The water should be changed often rather than left standing, to prevent bacterial growth. Even if there is a soaking pan available, however, experts report that it is still important to bathe the tortoise by hand. For young, growing tortoises, frequent bathing is even more vital to their health, as they are not yet able to retain water efficiently. With proper cleaning and care, these little desert tortoises will happily live in your home and garden for decades to come.